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Reem’s Will Transform the Mission Pie Space Into SF’s First Arab Bakery

There will be breakfast pastries and big trays of kenafah

Reem Assil at her original bakery in Fruitvale
Patricia Chang

The ovens only went cold at Mission Pie two months ago, but already long-time customers were starting to wonder if they’d ever fill the void — if not for all-American butter-crust pies specifically, then at least for the kind of community-minded place where you could sit down and enjoy a coffee and a pastry in the mornings, or have a working group lunch, or swing by for a sweet treat to close out the night. There aren’t too many existing Bay Area food businesses that fit that bill to a tee, but one of the most prominent ones wound up securing the lease: Reem’s, the popular and widely acclaimed Arab bakery and restaurant in Oakland’s Fruitvale District, will take over the former Mission Pie space at 25th and Mission, and open to the public in February 2020. It will be the second Reem’s location and San Francisco’s first full-fledged Arab bakery.

So it is, then, that while the pastry gods sometimes take away, when they give, they give generously. Assil tells Eater SF that she had been looking to expand for six months, mainly because she’d outgrown her kitchen in Oakland, which couldn’t really accommodate the restaurant’s booming catering business. Just as constricting, she says, was the fact that she was never able to establish the kind of vibrant breakfast and pastry menu she’d dreamed of when she first opened Reem’s: Her pastries and breakfast items just never seemed to take off in Fruitvale the way she’d hoped they would, and pretty soon the bakery just stopped opening for weekday breakfast service.

Khobz sim sim, or sesame bread loops, at Reem’s
Khobz sim sim
Patricia Chang

So, when Mission Pie partners Krystin Rubin and Karen Heisler reached out about the possibility of leasing the 1,900-square-foot space from its new owners, the Hanhan brothers, Assil knew she had to make it happen. Here, she’d have access to a four-deck oven that could crank out massive quantities of pita at a time. Here was a space that already had a rich history of serving pastries and sweets.

The second location of Reem’s will be open all day, six days a week, from 9 a.m. to at least 9 p.m. — probably 10 p.m. on the weekends. The restaurant will serve the mana’eesh (flatbreads) and wraps that its lunch and dinner menus are best known for, and it will offer beer, wine, and a robust coffee program. But what Assil says she’s most excited about is finally getting to implement the extensive Arab pastry program she’s always wanted — not just her stock-in-trade flatbreads, but also the khobz sim sim (sesame seed–flecked bread pouches) that never got as much traction in Oakland as Assil had hoped; her baklava; the shredded-phyllo-and-cheese dessert known as kenafah, which she’ll cut to order from large trays like they do in Lebanon; and countless other desserts and breakfast treats. One combination she wants to encourage customers to try: a slice of sweet kenafah stuffed inside one of the sesame pouches like a sandwich. “It’s heaven,” Assil says.

Baklava
Sana Javeri Kadri

There are a number of ways, then, to frame the story of Reem’s move into the old Mission Pie. There is, for starters, the sense that Assil is carrying on the legacy of her predecessors in the space, in terms of serving baked goods in a warm, community-minded setting. It’s also a homecoming: Assil explains that she started her career, years ago, at the La Cocina kitchen incubator just a couple of blocks away; in fact, some of the earliest Reem’s popups were at Mission Pie: “We essentially got our start in that building.”

There’s a Palestinian diaspora story somewhere in there, too. Assil, who is of Palestinian and Syrian descent, says the Hanhan brothers — three Palestinian brothers who own the nearby Samiramis Middle Eastern grocery store — ultimately decided to give Reem’s the space even though they’d received stronger offers. It’s not that the brothers leased the bakery to her because she’s Palestinian, or because they wanted an Arab restaurant specifically, Assil says. But in the end they believed in her vision for the space. “I can’t move in as quickly as someone with more upfront cash, but I’m going to stay there longer,” Assil explains. “This neighborhood needs a Reem’s.”

Mu’ajinaat (turnovers)
Patricia Chang

There is also the fact that Assil sees opening this Mission outpost as a kind of turning over of a new leaf, after a contentious split from Daniel Patterson’s Alta Restaurant Group and Dyafa, the upscale Jack London Square restaurant that she was the public face of for more than a year. “I’m no victim,” she says. “Every sort of failure is a learning experience.”

In fact, the new Mission outpost is just the first part of what look to be fairly aggressive expansion plans for Reem’s in the next year. This coming summer she’ll also open a kiosk in the new Jack London Square food hall, which has put together a lineup of some of the East Bay food scene’s most exciting names — Preeti Mistry (Juhu Beach Club) and Matt Horn (of Horn BBQ) will occupy two of the other kiosks. The concept for the Reem’s kiosk? Stuffed falafels and al pastor–style chicken shawarma. Meanwhile, Assil says she’s also in talks to secure a space for a full-service restaurant in the East Bay. If everything falls into place, that new restaurant would potentially open at the end of 2020 or early in 2021.

As for the Mission bakery, things will move quickly. Assil says she expects to transfer her entire catering operation over to the Mission location shortly, in time for the holidays. In January, she’ll revamp the space in collaboration with Dala Al-Fuwaires, a Palestinian-American interior designer based in Arizona, in time to open the new Reem’s to the public in mid- to late-February.

Reem's [Mission]

2901 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

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